‘We have much to celebrate’

Heads of Government, CARICOM Secretary-General and delegates at the opening of the 42nd Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM

In spite of financial, health and climate crises, there is much to celebrate in the Region.

“… In recent times, our Community has been beset by financial crises, several intense climatic events and other natural disasters, and latterly a pandemic. However, we have emerged stronger than ever, testimony to our determination and commitment to each other, and the integration process. We have much to celebrate,” CARICOM Secretary-General, Amb. Irwin LaRocque said Monday.

He was at the time delivering remarks at the opening of the Forty-Second Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM on 5 July, a day after the Community observed the 48th anniversary of the signing of the founding Treaty of Chaguaramas.

The Meeting is being held virtually over two days, and is hosted by Antigua and Barbuda, whose Prime Minister, the Hon. Gaston Browne, assumed the Chairmanship of the Community on 1 July. He succeeds Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. the Hon. Keith Rowley.

Pointing to the achievements of the regional integration movement, the Secretary-General listed the shaping of the integration movement as a “lived experience” through Community reform that yielded a greater level of cohesion and coordination with a premium of delivering results and accountability.

“The involvement of the stakeholders at the national and regional levels has also been pursued with the engagement of the private sector, labour, civil society and the youth. Their voices are now heard around the table at our Ministerial Councils, and in the case of the private sector, labour and civil society, they have been welcomed again to the forum of the Heads of Government.

“I have been energised by the vitality and ideas of our youth with whom I have interacted throughout my tenure.  I have been struck by their immense pride in being part of the Caribbean Community and their desire for integration to work for them,” he said

The Secretary-General drew attention to the force the Community wielded when it acted in concert. He singled out the goals achieved on the international front, particularly on actions to mitigate the impact of climate change; advocacy on the creation of a vulnerability index which is gaining attention; and efforts to combat the pandemic.

“We summoned our collective spirit to combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Without that approach, it would have been difficult to overcome the health challenges posed by the virus,” he said, pointing to the regional approach to access adequate supplies of vaccines.

Chair of CARICOM, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, the Hon. Gaston Browne

In his remarks at the opening, Prime Minister Browne, also referred to the collective approach to fight the pandemic that “served us so well” in managing the virus.

“The last 16 months have shown the wisdom of establishing regional institutions such as CARPHA, CDEMA, the RSS and CARICOM IMPACS which, along with UWI and the CARICOM Secretariat, have served this Region so well in dealing with the health aspects of the pandemic,” Prime Minister Browne said.

Unified voice

Addressing CARICOM strength, Secretary-General LaRocque said advocacy, cohesive economic, social and security pillars that were being built had not gone unnoticed in the wider world.

“CARICOM’s unified voice is much sought after by the international community. The desire to formalise links with us is growing,” he said at the opening session.

He highlighted achievements under the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), which he described as the major vehicle driving development. He focused on the expansion of the categories of free movement of skills; the creation of new business opportunities; the liberalisation of the aviation sector under the Multilateral Air Services Agreement; and progress in combatting crime.

But he acknowledged that more needed to be done.

“Mr. Chairman, I am the first to recognise that more could have been accomplished, particularly with the CSME. A lot of preparatory technical work has been done, and redone, by the Secretariat. But because of our decision-making process, we can only move as fast as the slowest Member State. To drive the integration process forward, the time has come to consider favourably the concept of enhanced cooperation to allow those who are ready to go forward to do so. This was discussed as early as when the original Treaty of Chaguaramas was being revised. It has been referred to at various times as circles of integration or the coalition of the willing.

“I believe this must be pursued. But we must maintain the integrity and fundamental principles, goals and objectives of the Revised Treaty,” he cautioned.

He also advised that greater emphasis had to be placed on prioritising in the context of resource constraints.


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